What I mean to say is that Vino’s is one of Buffalo’s coziest neighborhood restaurants. It’s the kind of place you go to for a solid, no-frills meal and end up getting served, in subtle ways, a sense of community and belonging. Even if you’ve never eaten there before and even if you don’t know anyone else in the dining room (although you probably do; see aphorism above), you feel like a regular—like you’re having dinner at an extended family member’s home.
That feeling is attributable to the warm and hospitable environment cultivated by the people who make Vino’s tick. It starts with the gracious greeting the restaurant’s matriarch doles out to every custom who walks in. No reservation? No problem. They were expecting you—or so it would seem.
The feeling follows you to your table, where, above the euphonious murmurs of neighboring parties, your cheerful server guides you through the daily wine and food specials—Valpolicella, arancini, and haddock, on my visit—and makes personalized recommendations with the palpable warmth and familiarity of a favorite aunt or well-liked young cousin.
The food, too, is homey, but of the special sort—like something your mom might cook, not on a Tuesday night after a frantic workday, but for company on a Sunday, when she has the luxury of time to let things simmer, roast, meld, and develop.
An appetizer of “Mama’s pulpette,” for instance, arrived three to a plate, steaming from a well-portioned ladleful of red sauce but otherwise unadorned. What the plating lacked in visual appeal was compensated for within the meatballs themselves, which were flecked with fresh herbs and studded with pine nuts and plump, dark raisins.
A plate of stuffed hot peppers was similarly thoughtful. Unlike establishments that throw ground sausage or shredded cheese in a chile and call it a day, Vino’s takes the time to make a propriety blend of sausage, pecorino Romano, and breadcrumbs, resulting in a toothsome filling as pleasantly textured and moist as the aforementioned meatballs.
Pine nuts and pecorino made a welcome reappearance in a satisfying entrée of spaghetti with pesto. That the dish could have been improved by a hit of lemon juice and a glug of olive oil or a splash of the starchy water the pasta cooked in is a minor quibble that didn’t prevent me from polishing off nearly an entire plateful of the verdant strands. But perhaps it explains why my server recommended saving a meatball from my appetizer course and adding it to the dish; the remnants of red sauce that clung to it provided just the acidity and moisture I was looking for.
In contrast, pasta consarde—spaghetti with sardines, anchovies, and garlic—was over sauced. My dining companion, who has had the dish numerous times in the past, was surprised by the imbalance, suggesting a heavy-handed line cook happened to be on the job this particular night.
No matter. We got up from our table at the end of the evening sporting that particular brand of contentment that accompanies full bellies and a glass of red wine. On our way out, the owner who first greeted us issued an equally gracious farewell and a promise to have hummingbird cake—she had gotten word from my server that it’s my favorite—on the dessert menu “next time.”
She knows I’ll be back.